Tuesday, what more can I say?

It is almost noon and I must face facts, I am lazy today.  I told MK and Mike this morning at breakfast, before heading out to the gym that I was having a “Rich Day.”  Mary Kay laughed and said that a “Rich Day” is nothing more than a day I spend in running around the house doing things.  She is right, but I am not sure what I should have called it. 

I am still in my leather easy chair but I do have my beloved laptop with me.  I have spent the morning messing around with blogorganization, making sure that I have everything properly documented and filed.  I have done some e-mailing and also a short translation from French into English for Christine in France, who requested that I go over something for a special “Fair Trade” exhibition taking place in a Strasbourg church in the near future featuring bronze statues from Burkina Faso.  It amazes me that a small piece of my work might soon be sitting in a French church.  It also just occurred to me that I forgot to mention to Christine, although with her English I am sure she is aware, that I used the American spelling of mold which would be mould in British English.  Oh well…

Yesterday was absolutely wonderful with Samantha but for some reason it flattened me a bit!  I fell asleep in my chair during her afternoon nap, something I don’t do all that often.  I thought about it and realized that I have really been terribly busy, so why not just have a plain old lazy day?

I had a great workout at the gym early in the morning.  Mike’s was less successful as he was dealing with Charlie’s somewhat unexpected exercise routine that “confused” his own a bit.  Mine was going along just fine, some cardio, my shoulder/chest machines, and then a “super” cardio finish because somehow having Michael next to me on a treadmill had me working harder than I otherwise might have. 

So, I came home, did some organization, a bit of translation, and am quietly sitting finishing up the herbal tea I prepared.  Lunch, perhaps?  Darn, I am going to have to prepare it myself!

I also did some work for MK’s upcoming birthday.  As usual, I will set some “grenades and bombs” of confusion about what will take place and about what she might be receiving for this particular “big” birthday that she wants no hubbub about.  I love the element of surprise and the stress as one wonders exactly what is going to happen.  Honestly, I haven’t done much planning…or have I?  Since she reads this blog, perhaps I am setting her up from this vantage point.  On the other hand, is her birthday this month or next month?  She knows me too well, I am not the normal husband, I remember these things.  My mother trained me well, Queen of Hallmark that she was!

So, although I am blogging later in the day than normal, at least I got to it!  Still keep wondering…the day is young, there are all kinds of mischief I can get involved in!

Soufflenheim and its pottery

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France is obviously a very important part of my life.  My first view of it was through Paris and of Tours, living in the latter for an academic year of college.  I thought that I would always prefer Tours and the Valley of the Loire, but I was mistaken.  Although I frankly adore it all, I am particularly smitten by Alsace and Strasbourg.  So much so that when I am in Paris I have been asked if I am “from the East.”  They noticed that I was using some vocabulary and also had a trace of an accent from the eastern portion of France.

Having spent more than ten years of yearly two weeks or more stays in the environs of Strasbourg, I grew to love the area. I created many close friendships and had many a good time there.  Because of the nature of the exchange program I worked with, I lived each time I went to France, with a teacher/colleague who exposed me to all aspects of the Alsatian/French culture while treating me like a king.

I remember early on falling in love with the everyday dishes my friends would serve me on.  During the daily trips we would take in the area with students, one of the stops was always the lovely town of Soufflenheim.  While there we would visit the local pottery shops and get to see the making of it as well.  In my visits there I became enamored of the blue variety you see in my pictures.  I decided that we needed to have a set of it.  I even have my favorite potter’s studio of Philippe Lehmann.  One of the things I like best about it is the fact that there are variations in its production, they are not perfectly alike.  From potter to potter there are variations as well. 

Supposedly potters have been in the area since almost 400 B.C.  The local potters were given the rights to use the local clay from the nearby Haguenau forest by the Emperor Barbarossa.

The large dish/plate/tray with my name and Mary Kay’s was a gift from my dear friend, Martine, one of my teacher/colleagues who stayed with us and then we stayed with her family while in France.  That was quite the lucky stay since it was a Boulangerie/Pâtisserie Artisanale, which means that it was truly on top of the heap in terms of honors and they were well deserved ones at that.  Needless to say, we had the most amazing culinary time you could imagine soaking up all the amazing bakery items imaginable, all while visiting with a most amazing family.

Martine and my other friends, Nicole, Catherine, and Fabienne, spent much time with me and my family and exposed me to so many aspects of Alsace and Strasbourg.

One thing I found out right away is that the pottery from Soufflenheim could not be easily gotten in the U.S.  When I asked about shipping it, they told me that they just don’t!  I checked into shipping it myself and my friend, Martine, told me that I risked getting it back home smashed to bits because the postal workers were notorious for not treating packages well.  I therefore set about, in my stays there, to picking up plates, mugs, assorted pieces, bit by bit and transporting them on the plane as carry ons.   Little by little, mostly just by myself, but with family members when they were with me, I picked up enough pieces to have a set of fifteen dinner plates, salad plates, etc.  We use it when we feel the need for a “pick me up” because it always gives us pleasure using it.  This year we decided it is our official Thanksgiving set of dishes to be used with the dirylite cutlery we have.  It all looks amazing together.

In France, it is advertised as being safe in the dishwasher, oven, and microwave although we take more care with it than to do that.   The blue is the secondary color of Soufflenheim, I believe, the mustardy yellow being more popular.  What we purchased is pretty traditional in style; they have advanced to modernizing it a bit.

One of these days I need to visit the town of Betschdorf, the other famous Alsatian town for pottery.  I think it is beautiful as well, it is a gray/blue combo, but it just doesn’t have the pull for me that Soufflenheim’s does.

Soufflenheim is also known for being close to Sessenheim, a town where a young lady lived, who was pursued by Goethe.  I believe that Goethe was known to have visited Soufflenheim with the young lady as well.

One of the pictures has a piece that looks a lot like a Bundt pan.  It is the mold for a Kougelhopf, a special Alsatian cake that can either be made as a dessert type with some sweetness and almonds or a more savory apéritif type variety with cheese and bacon.

I know many people who have a piece or two of the beautiful Soufflenheim pottery, but don’t know of any other family beyond our own who has an entire set of it.

At the present time, one of our salad plates bit the dust, I think I may just have to go to France and pick up another!

Dinner chez Marcia

True to form, we make plans to do things. When the moment arrives, sometimes one thinks, “Why did I make these plans, the weather is crummy, I don’t feel like going out, etc.” True to form as well, one arrives on scene at the engagement made and realizes that despite feelings that it would be best to stay home, that the scenario turned out to be a memorable moment.

Going downtown can be a tiring experience; the part of it I like least is the traffic one has to deal with in order to get there in the late afternoon to early evening. I am an on-time person and I find it hard when I cannot easily plan within the framework affected by erratic traffic. As it turns out, despite our plans to leave at 5:15 PM to get downtown for 6:30, we didn’t get out of the house until 5:37 PM. Having Samantha in the house beforehand is enough to cause the delay. As usual, I avoided the main highway, which was a major parking lot, and took the Sheridan Road to Lake Shore Drive, seemingly slower, and yet not at that time of day.

Our invitation was at Marcia’s, a dear colleague from the French Homestay/Exchange I was involved in for over ten years. Dinner chez Marcia is always entertaining and the culinary aspect approaches that of the finest French restaurants. Marcia is the consummate hostess.

Going to Marcia’s is always interesting because the discussion is with intelligent people from different backgrounds who have somehow had some involvement with the program in France. After the experience of being with them, one realizes how inferior some of our social connections can actually be. There isn’t a moment where one is bored and the time passes oh so quickly. At the end of the evening, we looked at our watches for the first time and realized that it was well past eleven. There was no fatigue reminding us of the hour, no moment of thinking about when we would be able to leave. The conversation is always scintillating, hitting all sorts of subjects, and always engaging.

The evening started out with French champagne and appetizers. We were the last ones to arrive (oh so French, though not on purpose) and we had the appetizers, so we were keeping the festivities from beginning. The mood was relaxed and congenial. It was oh so nice seeing people we hadn’t connected with in so long.

My biggest surprise of the evening is that this blog is being read by more of my friends/acquaintances than I ever would have imagined. When I think back to last September, when I started blogging on a personal whim, not having any idea where this might be headed. My entries brought about conversation regarding things going on chez les Koerner, which I view as a good thing. I found it interesting that in some areas, I had no explaining to do regarding what has been happening, as everyone already knew!

After a nice conversational moment the word was that we were to go to the dining area and we sat down in places selected for us, nicely separating spouses and friends for good conversation. There were ten of us in total. We started out with three different foie gras, whose origins were explained to us. Personally, I liked Jean-Frédéric’s (the son of our good colleague/friend in France) the best! There were several white wines to go along with the course. Honestly, had we stopped the evening as early as that point, it would have still been a major success.

The next course was prime rib which was served rare, as I believe it should be. That always makes me happy. Red wine, of course, was served along with it. Ratatouille made by Marcia and cassoulet, If I remember correctly, were served as well.

The wines were amazing, they were always accompanied by an explanation/story of their origins, the food was explained, conversations about the food and other issues ongoing. This is the way a meal should be.
Following this, and the removal of the plates, the next course came out, that of salad (which was delicious, as expected) and the different varieties of cheese (I think all were French) served with a great multi-grain bread.

As the table was being cleared I became a bit confused as I was asked my age and/or whether Mary Kay was younger than I am. This cleared itself up as the Galette des Rois (the traditional Epiphany cake of France) was brought out. This came accompanied by a crown. The person receiving the fève (a tiny statuette) in his/her piece of the the galette would then wear the crown as the King or Queen and receive its accompanying good luck. The fève, for this occasion, was a miniscule statuette of a traditionally dressed Alsatian woman).

The reason I was asked my age is because the youngest person has to go under the table until everyone is served and call out the names of the the attending people as the hostess asked the question, “Pour qui est-ce?” This means, “For whom is the piece of galette?). Luckily, my memory of names was not hampered too much by the wine, although I almost forgot Mary Kay’s (lol!) and was reminded of it. It was strange being under the table. Is this perhaps my new place to be?

After the galette was served to all, we started eating and Marcia became the reigning Queen, a title which she well deserves for all of the wonderful things she does and the amazing job she has done culturally for both the Americans and the French at working with our friend Christine (and others) in France to create the programs we have so much enjoyed for so many years.

Along with the galette were served amazing chocolates Marcia had procured in France from the best chocolate makers (and that is no joke!) and other delicacies. Naturally, at this point several “digestifs” (after dinner drinks) were served.

Although one would think that the amount of liquor would be deadly, I felt, in fact, no ill effect as I had not really imbibed all that much at any point in time and what I did ingest was taken at intervals with the courses being eaten.

As I said, the time just flew by and the conversation and friendships re-invigorated were so much enjoyed. Marcia is truly the consummate hostess and so knowledgeable in so many different areas. As an aside, Mary Kay and I truly miss her sister, an intelligent woman who had some interesting opinions, many of which we don’t and didn’t share. One time she came with us to a dinner chez Marcia (we asked Marcia if she minded, and of course she didn’t) and in discussion with Marcia actually admitted that she was speechless and realized she just had to be quiet. That is the only time I ever witnessed that reaction. We so enjoyed that moment.

A special thanks to Marcia and all of our friends. Apologies to all if we haven’t been as able to be as social as we would like, yet I know that everyone understands. Events like this are reminders of the beauty of the variations within people and personalities and the richness they all bring to life’s table. That was one amazing evening! We feel so blessed.

Black bricks and fluffy snow

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I just took out the recycling after figuring out that my town does, in fact, not count Martin Luther King Day as an official holiday.  If they did, I wouldn’t have to take out the recycling, they would come tomorrow instead.  I was a bit surprised by that.  Mary Kay is home today, there is no school; during my school career it was an official holiday; oh well, but isn’t that discriminatory? It makes me think of the famous “Pulaski Day” we used to celebrate in Illinois with the day off, never being truly apprised as to why he was so important we would have a day off;  Dr. Martin Luther King day, that I can understand.

As I moved the recycling from the front to the back I slipped on some invisible ice on my driveway and almost pulled out my back.  That was a bit of a surprise. As I walked in the house, my crocs filled up with just enough snow to be annoying as I passed by several big black bricks of dirty snow from the car that I kicked aside.  The falling snow shall soon hide the ugliness of a winter thaw and traffic on the temporarily pristine surfaces.

Ali did get the paper and once again is snoozing in the same location she has been choosing the past few days near my feet.

I am not feeling overly great, having yesterday figured out why I was cleaning and straightening up like the mad man I am, I was getting Samantha’s cold.  It wasn’t the stress or worry coming out, it was a simple cold!  As the day progressed that feeling of weird pain in my sinuses progressed as it felt like they were twisting tightly and tightening.  The result was an intense unpleasantness of swallowing, growing stronger by the moment.  I almost feared going to bed thinking that I might have a bad night, but luckily that didn’t come true.

We shall be having Samantha over for a bit today as we jockey time so that everyone can have some free time. Yesterday at Ribfest she was a bit better mood wise than she had in previous days while her nose was running; yesterday the cold was  bit “stuffier” but still evident.  I must say that I have rarely seen a child do as well with a cold, even my own didn’t.  Her illness showed itself by a little less politeness, she almost always uses her “pleases and thankyous” in both French and English but was more inclined to be curt.  She was also more inclined to hang on to mommy and to a lesser extent daddy when the mood struck.

Ribfest went extremely well and seemed to help melt the tension we have been feeling in a sometimes heavy duty way since the day that Michael told us he was a drug user. Breaking bread together may just be symbolic but it is far deeper than that in meaning.  It must be almost primeval the actual sitting down with people and eating.  It seems to break down barriers and allows us to move on.  Since it is such a Koerner tradition anyway with European aspects added in, it is even more important that we actually take the time to spend with each other.

Talking about breaking bread, I remember that when I was an adviser at New Trier that I made a great effort to bring doughnuts and such even when I didn’t feel so inclined.  I was seemingly so often gifted with dysfunctional groups that had problems and eating together definitely didn’t ever hurt.

I pulled out the apéro (apéritif) when everyone arrived.  Everyone had their drink of choice (with Mikey teetotaling) as we snacked on peanuts, spiced pretzels, and cheese puffs.  Even Samantha enjoyed the experience as we sat together and talked about the week’s experiences and then had the birthday boy open up his gifts.  We are hoping that the family stress we have experienced continues to lessen as we all recover and heal.  There was talk of working out together, playing hockey, cross country skiing, and movies.  I just exchanged my cross country boots so I am hoping to get out in the stuff.  Might as well enjoy the snow we are gifted with.

The oldest and the youngest tended to the final step of cooking yesterday to get the ribs in order on the grill.  I had intended to take pictures of them but they were snarfed up before I could do anything about it.  I did get some pics of Michael in all his “barbecue” glory.  He was so funny because when we all sat down and had a toast, I followed it up with a question to the group asking if anyone needed anything.  I had noticed that there wasn’t any extra sauce around, but frankly after jumping up quite a few times (honestly, I really don’t need to work out!), I decided to sit down and “make do.”  Mikey asked the question as he apparently likes extra sauce as well.  I am not even sure how I responded, but the whole family went into its usual uproar saying that my “martyr” ways wouldn’t be accepted.  What they meant by that is something I learned from my mom growing up, when she would cook, for example, she would always take the slightly overcooked meat, the smaller piece, etc., gifting us with the better portion.  I have been known to follow this path and when it is noted, it is more often than not corrected.  Do I need professional help for this? 

The other aspects of the day, as I collected more Facebook friends from the past, were more than wonderful.  I have received messages from so many former students with little bits and pieces of kind words of things they remember from my classroom.  Yesterday, one of them who has self-admittedly sadly put aside her French as she majored in elementary education talked about how she mentioned my practices in education classes.  Another one spoke of using some of my practices while teaching English in France. Then there was the young man who spoke of reading this blog and saying that he was so happy to have had a teacher who cared as much about his students and that it made him feel so good about his education.  Teaching well is one heck of a hard career at times and drains the last bit of energy from you as if you were losing blood at times.  Moments like this are like transfusions and more than make up for the blood lost!

So, kind of a holiday here although unfortunately we won’t be thinking of Dr. Martin Luther King as much as we should.  The snow is starting to collect on the exterior surfaces and I am sure that I am going to have to do something about that. Meanwhile, I need to gather my forces and face another day and week.  This week shall be probably the last of my heavy tutoring for a while; it has been a great experience as the students have been so appreciative and receptive.

Ali is stirring, is Mikey up?  Gourmet breakfast perhaps?

Smokin!

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Everyone knows of the French German thing.  We all know that there is no love lost between the two groups.  Then again, there are numerous groups that don’t always see eye to eye or just don’t get along.  The list is probably endless.

I was looking at this “Smoker,” a cute wooden object made in Germany.  Looking at the lettering on the cheese, it just struck me that something was slightly awry.  I knew that the spelling of the cheese was incorrect on this representation of a Frenchman done by a German.  I just keep wondering how this “mistake” came about.

We know that the Germans are perfectionists.  We know they are smart.  The smoker was made in Germany and probably reproduced more than hundreds of times.  How is it that the spelling of the national French cheese, “camembert” was done incorrectly?  It is hard to believe that the Germans don’t have good quality control.  So, what exactly were they thinking of accomplishing?  They most assuredly knew what they were doing.

This smoker is one of many wooden objects we have collected in the Koerner household.  We have a bunch of nutcrackers, miscellaneous decorations, and smokers.  The smokers are interesting in that they come apart at the middle and you can place an incense cone there, light it, and watch the smoke come out of the pipe, the mouth, the whatever, in an intriguing way.  One thing we have found is that you need high quality incense, usually German, for the best effect.  Hmm, makes me think that perhaps it might be fun and useful to do that right now…later!

Darn!  I was going to light some incense in the French smoker and I find that the Germans have tricked me!  Quelle surprise for the French teacher.  It is a plot!  It is really a nutcracker and I didn’t even realize it!